Teacup Parenting: College Preparation Tips for Parents

Would a professor or boss call your child a teacup?

You’ve heard of helicopter parents (always hovering, swooping in to save the day). Snowplow and lawnmower parents have gotten some press (push in ahead of their children, clear all possible obstacles, allow them to think they’re handling things on their own). The new parenting phenomenon? Teacup parenting.

Stories abound of students who are so cared for, so fragile, that they simply shatter at the first bit of hot water.

Are you likely to send a teacup to college? Consider these five points:

  1. Do you handle everything? Let go of the reins a little now, while you’re there to help. Let your kids be in charge of some projects. For example, let them do some of the college visit planning – and when you get there, let them do the talking! Instead of anticipating and preventing problems, let them chart their own course and watch how they deal with bumps along the way.
  2. Is your child’s first line of defense always to call home? Do you jump in and fix anything wrong, whether it’s getting the college applications in by the deadline, or running gym clothes to the school when they didn’t make it into the backpack? When he calls, gently direct him to figure out what he can do.
  3. Does your child know how to fail? When she applies to her reach school and doesn’t get in, how will she handle the rejection letter? Think back to the last time she lost. How did she handle it? Think also about the reactions she sees in you. When your child is not the first to finish, are you quick to point out the shortcomings of the winner, how your child was better, or how the event planning was flawed?
  4. Will the first F your child ever receives happen when he is away at college? Failure is a part of life, so teens need to know how to handle it – and they need to know that it isn’t the end of the world.
  5. Observe how your child reacts to criticism, and consider how you react to criticism of your child. Do you feel the other person is always wrong? Provide the tools to graciously accept this input (even when it’s not well-founded), and how to turn a negative into a positive. This is a skill that will help your child far beyond the school years.

What happens when you send a teacup out into the world?

Below are some real-life examples.

It’s hard to find the line between raising children to know they are valued, but not in such a way that they could break apart when they discover they aren’t as cherished in general as they are at home. Take a look at these true-story examples (names changed to protect the broken), and see what you think of the suggestions for preferred reactions:

  • John, freshman, got lost on campus. Called Mom, then Mom called student affairs to complain John didn’t get a map and the signs on campus were inadequate. (Preferred reaction to lost on campus? Ask for directions from one of the scores of students walking by.)
  • Jason had a solid 4.0 throughout high school, then received his first-ever C on a college assignment. Jason called home, and his parent called the professor. (Preferred reaction would be Jason going to the professor’s posted office hours to discuss bringing up that C.)
  • Jennifer graduated with honors after sailing through high school and college. During her first job performance review she received a below-average rating. Later that day, her father called HR to discuss. (Preferred reaction to this one? Pretty much anything other than having the parent of an adult call her boss to intervene!)

Think the stories in the examples above are just too much to be true? Check out these links!

So what’s a concerned parent to do?

Obviously, not everyone’s situation will be the same. Certainly there will always be a need for positive parenting, and students with involved parents typically do better academically. More about this in Parent College Coach Tip #12: Five Positive Parenting Tips. The challenge is to avoid crossing from positive parenting into over-parenting. No one will be perfect, of course, but thoughtful parenting that gives tools to solve problems, rather than just taking care of the problems for the children, sets them up for success later — on their own, no intervention required!


Updated July 2019

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